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Capital Highlights

Senate passes tax cut package


The Texas Senate last week unanimously approved a $16.5 billion package to lower property taxes and inject billions of dollars into public schools.

As reported by the Texas Tribune, the three separate bills require the state to send at least $5.38 billion to public schools while at the same time raising the state’s homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000, with an additional $20,000 exemption for homeowners 65 and older. According to the Tribune, the proposal would save an average homeowner $341 on their annual tax bill. Seniors would save an additional $227 annually.

In exchange for the increased state funding, local school property tax rates would be cut by 7 cents for every $100 in appraised value. An owner of a $300,000 home paying the state’s average school tax rate would save $210 annually in property taxes. 

“This is off-the-charts, incredible property tax relief for millions of Texas homeowners,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston.


Deadline to register for May 6 election nears

The deadline for eligible Texas voters to register in order to vote in the May 6 local elections is just around the corner, Secretary of State Jane Nelson announced. 

“If you are not already registered to vote in the upcoming local elections, there is still time! Make sure to submit your voter registration application to your county voter registrar by Thursday, April 6 so that you can have an opportunity to make your voice heard in your local community,” Nelson said.

Check with the local elections office to learn which municipalities, school districts and other entities are holding elections. Early voting begins on April 24 and ends on May 2, with Election Day on May 6.


Paid parental leave for state workers?

For the first time, state employees could get 30 days of paid leave for childbirth or adoption. A bipartisan bill passed the Texas Senate last week with unanimous support.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that Senate Bill 222, besides allowing the 30 days of paid leave, would apply to anyone paying into the Employee Retirement System of Texas; to employees working within the executive branch of state government; and give 10 days of paid leave to employees whose spouse gave birth. 

“Paid parental leave will help the state attract and retain talent while combating the workforce shortage,” the bill’s main sponsor, state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said. A similar bill in the House would grant 60 days of paid leave under the same circumstances detailed in the Senate bill.


Agency warns of dangerous drug combination

An animal tranquilizer called xylazine has been found mixed with illegal drugs distributed in the state, resulting in at least four deaths, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported.

The tranquilizer has been combined with fentanyl and other opioids, as well as Xanax and other drugs. It produces a strong sedative effect and can cause unconsciousness, low blood pressure, and a slowed heart rate and breathing. It can also cause organ damage due to loss of blood flow.

Since it is not an opioid, the effects of xylazine cannot be reversed by using Narcan, officials said.


New foster care model launched

Community groups representing nearly 50 counties in North and East Texas are assuming oversight of foster care from the state of Texas in a groundbreaking attempt to boost capacity and essential services for children under the state’s conservatorship.

Three contracts were signed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and private groups. One serves Dallas County along with eight surrounding counties. Another serves 23 counties in Northeast Texas, while a third serves the Beaumont-Port Arthur area.

“This largest expansion to date for Community-Based Care is a real turning point in our state’s intensive effort to move to local control, and a better system overall for the children and youth in our care,” Stephanie Muth, DFPS commissioner, said. “Those kids belong to their communities, and those communities want the opportunity to make every day better for a child in foster care.”

The expansion means that community-based care is now in place in half of the state geographically, representing a third of the population. 


First case of avian flu in mammals in Texas

A striped skunk recovered from Carson County in the Panhandle has been confirmed as the first case of avian flu in a mammal in the state.

Officially called Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, it is a highly contagious virus transmitted easily among wild and domestic birds. It has been detected in all states except Hawaii, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Transmission occurs through consumption of infected animal carcasses. Symptoms include stumbling, tremors, seizures, lack of fear of people, lethargy, coughing and sneezing, or sudden death. 

While transmission risk from infected birds to people remains low, precautions should be taken, such as wearing gloves and face masks if in contact with wild animals, TPWD advised.


School choice hearing draws hundreds

A Senate Education Committee meeting on proposals that would give parents public money for private schools drew about 200 people and stretched past midnight last Thursday, the Statesman reported.

Supporters spoke about allowing school choice and financial relief for parents of private school students, while opponents warned against siphoning money from public districts, lack of oversight, and using taxpayer money for religious schools.

State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, is sponsoring Senate Bill 8, which would provide $8,000 per child for private school, homeschooling, tutoring, or other educational costs. He told the Statesman that education savings accounts would not hurt public schools.

“We can lift up public schools and teachers like never before,” Creighton said. “We can reconcile both very easily.”

Opponents say the proposal would harm public schools.

“For the state to statutorily tarnish the reputation of our public schools by directly putting dollars to private entities, that would further the vicious cycle,” Francesca Fraga Leahy, an Austin mother attending the hearing, said.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.


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